Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Recolte Rouge

Stick with me on this one, and maybe the candle will be worth the game, then again if it isn't you won't know until it is too late.

I recently re-read Red Harvest by Samuel Dashiell Hammett, it is a lovely, and very complex book written in the latter part of the 1920's, and it helped make a) Hammett a household name, and b) it helped to raise the mystery story to a higher form of literature. Previously 'hard-boiled' crime stories were published in 'pulp' magazines, so named because of the cheap 'pulp' like quality of the paper on which they were printed.  Hammett wrote numerous pulp stories, and created an unnamed character known as the "Continental-Op" (named because he worked for the Continental Detective Agency which was based loosely upon the Pinkerton Detectives, which Hammett had been one of before he became a writer). 

The book, in which the Op is the driving force, is a great book, with an extremely complicated plot. It has been 'redone' and or influenced movies like "For a Fistful of Dollars" and "Miller's Crossing". The latter film merely 'borrows' some plot devices from the book, but it's plot was so complex that the Cohen Brothers had to take six weeks 'off' from writing it because it was causing them writer's block. Six weeks in which they wrote "Barton Fink."  This is not a book review, nor will I attempt to explain the plot of the book in full. Read the damn thing yourself, and you will be rewarded quite richly. I figure that time spent reading a book review of such a good book is time that is better spent reading the actual book. After all, Dashiell Hammett is a much, much better writer than I ever will be, and it is his plot, and his story to tell. I figure we, for the most part, are able to tell our own stories much better than people telling it at one time removed. At least, if we try hard enough.

The point of this meandering point, if such a thing exists, is that near the end of Red Harvest, the Op (our mostly anti-hero), and a fellow detective are in search of a warehouse that they believe holds the earthly remains of another couple of main characters in the book. They are working on a 'tip' from someone that tells them that the bodies of these two fellows (a couple of villains of the piece) are to be found. And they are to be found in a state that we like our villains, dead.  Our detectives pile into a car, and go in search of this warehouse, in the first place you'd normally look for them, the warehouse district. The town in the story is not huge (it is based upon Butte, Montana), and the warehouse district is not hard to find, but being a district, it does posses more than one option.

The next scene that happens is, in my humble opinion, absolutely brilliant. The Op, and his partner come upon a warehouse, what they think is the correct warehouse, and the Op, ever so slowly, and ever so carefully enters the warehouse via a boarded up window (boards that he has to quietly remove). Since the fellow that gave him the information that the villains are dead, just might have been lying to him, the Op proceeds with the type of caution that has kept him alive this long. The tension is not overly done, and is just enough to keep you guessing until the Op meets the inhabitant of the warehouse. Which turns out to be some old fellow that is guarding a shit load of illegal hooch. The old fellow just happens to be an employee of one of the villains the Op is looking for, and the Op tells him of his employers possible demise, and suggests that a 'vacation' might be in order, and then the Op helps himself to a 'free' bottle of the illegal whisky.

Our boys eventually find the correct warehouse, and the plot continues to its lovely little ending. The point I took from the above scene is how brilliant it is. It is a scene that doesn't really drive the plot along to its conclusion, and it is in the last chapter after all, but it shows (to my mind at least) how the simple fact of going to the wrong warehouse, can be used to show how life, and how even 'heroes' sometime take unexpected, and rather pointless detours. We all like to think we have a plan, be they the five year type, or simply trying to plan some fools birthday lunch, plans are what, in theory, drive us forward. Pushing us to get out of the bed, off the couch, and forcing us to put on pants in order to face the day, because it is part of the plan.  Maybe your plan is to take over the Ukraine, or maybe it is just to get Wendy's, either way they are plans, things that you make in order to impose order upon your, and perhaps other's lives.

Life, that shit that happens while you were busy making other plans, still needs a plan of its own. It is a thing that must needs doing, and you may have a partner in the planning, or you may be a solo act. Either way, it has to be done, because without a plan you end up in the wrong warehouse, and all you have to show for it is a illegal bottle of knock off hooch. Hooch isn't the worst outcome for being plan less, there are far, far worse things that could happen to you, but is it really the reward you were looking for? Perhaps it can ease the problem(s) of the day, maybe even (if you ration it out wisely) the week, but eventually the hooch is going to run dry, and/or lose its ability to solve the problem of your lack of a plan.  Five year plans are great if you are planning the economy of a world super power, but what happens at the end of those five years? Another five year plan has to be enacted, and that is only really possible if the first five year plan went according to how it was supposed to.

Then again, no one has promised you five or even one year, so perhaps flying by the seat of your pants, relying on poor lighting and alcohol to get you through is the better solution. After all, have you ever spent a lot of time in the warehouse district. It is full of dilapidated, desolate places that are just one step away from collapse. Either way read Red Harvest, get to that one scene near the end, and appreciate it for what it is, a brilliant piece of writing by a man at the apex of his career.

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